Authors: Lisa A. Olech
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #spicy, #model
Jagger put his hands on his hips. “What the hell is going on with you?”
“Me? Nothing is going on with me. You’re the one with all the secrets. You’re the one with the wife. Or wives. Or God knows what.”
Jagger jaw twitched. He walked to the van, opened the passenger door and pulled something off the seat. “Here.” He held out a fat, beat-up photo album. Zee refused to take it. “Fine. Let me just show you the wedding pictures.” Jagger flipped open the book and held it in front of her. “I especially like the one of my mum and da standing with me and Michaela, you know, Mick. And next to her—” He jabbed a finger at the picture. “This guy here? That’s
“Glen? And Mick?”
“Yeah, Michaela. We call her Mick for short. Michaela, my sister? I’ve mentioned her before. She
the perfect bride, when she married
. I was the best man.”
“Yes, best man.” He snapped the book shut and tucked it under one arm. “There. Satisfied? I’m not married. Never have been. I’m not some bloody arse who would run out on a wife and, what did you say, two
children and a dog. I may be a bit of a wanker, and I’ve been called some lousy things, but I’ll be damned if anyone calls me a liar!”
Zee flinched again when he yelled. It made his heart squeeze. Did she think he’d hit her? When she covered her face with her hands, his anger melted away. If he was honest with himself, it was more a fear of losing her and not hurt pride that had his pulse racing. Watching her leave had stirred up more in him than he had expected. He didn’t want to lose her. Not now.
Jagger was on a slippery slope. One he’d never been on before. He realized just how much he needed her. She made him feel like who he was, and what he was doing, was worthy. It was true, he couldn’t offer her what Glen and Mick had. He couldn’t ask her that. But he could give her protection, and shelter. He could give her his heart.
“Zee, I’d never hurt you. If you trust nothing else, trust that,” Jagger whispered.
A sob rocked Zee’s shoulders. Her hands still covered her face. Zee mumbled, “Don’t you know you shouldn’t talk to crazy people.” Jagger pulled her into an embrace and held her tight. She buried her face in his chest. “I’m so sorry.”
“Did you really think I was married and didn’t tell you?”
Zee lifted her shoulders.
He kissed the top of her head. “Look at me.”
Zee shook her head.
“Look at me.” He slipped two fingers under her chin. She blinked up at him with wet eyes.
“I’m sorry, Jagger. You’ve never given me any reason to doubt you. I-I’m an idiot. I saw the picture and…I had an aneurism.”
“Shhh.” He wiped at the wetness under her eyes with a thumb and kissed her.
“Don’t be nice to me. I don’t deserve it.”
“I have to. I love you.”
A sob escaped Zee. She buried her face into his chest.
Jagger rubbed her back and spoke into her hair. “There are lots of things you don’t know about me. I’ll tell you everything.
I’m sure there are things I don’t know about you either, but I know I love the way you feel in my arms. I know I could kiss you for hours and make love to you for days. What else do you want to know? I’ll tell you. ” He pulled her tighter. “Half the fun is getting to know each other. We’ll get there. We will.”
She rested her cheek against him and fit against his body like a puzzle piece. Her arms slipped about his waist. “I feel like such a fool.”
“More foolish than some tosser stripping naked in a beautiful woman’s living room just so she’ll kiss him?”
Zee looked up at him and chewed her lip. “Does this mean we’re made for each other?”
“Who else would have us?”
“Did you just call me beautiful?”
“And, you love me?”
“God save me, ye daft woman, I do. Just promise me something. Promise me the next time you decide to jump to a whopper of a conclusion, you’ll pack a parachute at least.”
After a simple meal stretched out on a blanket by the river, Jagger took Zee back to the cabin and started a fire to chase the chill away. Zee asked to look through the rest of his photo album. He held her while she went page by page. He answered all her questions. All the while waiting for the perfect opportunity to tell her the whole truth, praying she wouldn’t bolt out the door again.
“Who is this?” Zee pointed to one of the photos. “She’s in a few of these pictures.”
“No.” The word came out clipped and Zee turned and gave him an inquiring look.
“Old girlfriend. Mum refused to cut up perfectly good pictures of the Jones family simply because
was in them.”
“Mum wasn’t a fan.”
“She’s gorgeous. Tall, thin. Stunning.” It seemed better not to say anything, though Zee was right. Victoria was all those things. “You loved her.”
“You were together for some time.” Zee flipped a few more pages. She’s in the background in a few of these.”
“We met at university. I came close to asking her to marry me.”
“How close?” Zee turned to look at him.
“Had the ring in my pocket.”
“That’s close. What happened?”
“I’d just graduated. Had her father’s permission. He offered me a job with his company. It was all neat and tidy. I bought the ring, and was taking her out that night to propose. Then my mum called, hysterical. Da had gotten his news.” Jagger sighed. “Victoria had a real hard time with Da’s illness. She couldn’t be around him. Hated the hospital. Said she was just too squeamish. I tried to understand, but hell, things weren’t easy for any of us. Day of Da’s memorial, she never showed. We had a huge blow up and that was it. I cashed in the ring and left a week later.”
“How awful for you.” Zee looked back at Victoria’s picture.
Jagger reached past her and flipped a few more pages.
“That’s me and Da three days before he passed.” The photograph still made his throat catch. The two of them mugging for the camera. Arms around each other. Best mates.
Zee touched the page with light fingers. “You have the same smile. Same brown eyes.” She tried to wipe away a tear without his notice. He noticed. If he hadn’t already been in love with her, he would have fallen hard in that moment. “He was a very handsome man. Like father, like son.”
Jagger tipped her face toward him and caught a tear with his thumb. Would she be so touched and understanding when she knew the truth? He opened his mouth to tell her.
Zee leaned in and kissed him. Tender, salty kisses soothed his heart and endeared her to him even more. She was making this hard. When she slipped her tongue into his mouth and sighed against him, what began as a gentle kiss quickly flared into another kind of kiss altogether. Any thoughts of confession singed away as Zee shifted her body over his. She was making everything hard. He moved to lay her down.
“Oh!” She caught the album as it slid from her lap. Pages flipped.
“No, no, you don’t have to see those.” Jagger tried to snatch the book from her.
“No, wait. I want to see. Is that you?”
“Mick added those to torture me.”
“You’re adorable.” Embarrassing baby pictures filled the next few pages. One of him having a bath with his naked butt sticking out of the water giving the camera a goofy grin. “You loved to pose even then.” There was a shot of him holding Mick the day she was born. Then horrible school pictures. Him missing his front teeth. One with new front teeth that looked like Chiclets. The front of his hair sticking up in odd directions. A picture of him in his church suit. One standing next to his prized red bike. He and his dad fixing the car.
“Oh. I love this one.” Zee pointed to the worst one of all. Him all skinny, knees and elbows in nothing but his knickers and a cape. Hands on his hips and his face turned to one side with his chin jutting out.
“I told you, I’m a superhero.” Zee laughed. “Give me that. You’re done.”
Jagger wrestled the book from her and tossed it to one side while pinning her beneath him. She wrapped her arms about his neck.
“Catch me, Superman, I’m falling.”
“I’ve got you.”
“Yes, I believe you do.”
Zee stayed with him that night and they made love in his squeaky bed. Afterward, resting like two spoons, he told her the story of each picture tacked to his wall. The clown’s name was Jingles, and two million rubber bands have a seriously funky smell. He told her more about the closeness between him and Michaela and how much he missed her and his mum. He confessed that while he sat posing, he composed music in his head. He played some for her, and then he taught her the most amazing thing to do with champagne.
Later, they lay tangled in his sheets. The only sound in the room was the slow rhythm of their breath and the occasional shift of embers in the wood stove. His body curved around hers. Their legs intertwined like vines. His angles met her curves.
“There is one more thing I have to tell you. Something I should show you.” Jagger spoke into her hair before kissing the top of her head. It was time.
“Let me guess.” She sighed against him sounding content and sleepy. “You can juggle fire.” She snuggled deeper into his embrace.
“No, not fire.” If she didn’t stop moving against him like that, he’d never get around to telling her.
“So you can juggle?”
“I should have known.” He felt her smile against his chest. “Could you juggle for me in the morning? I don’t want to move.”
“No worries. Go to sleep. It can wait.”
She stirred. “No, I’m awake. Show me.”
He paused trying to find the right words. This time the silence in the room wasn’t comforting. Zee lifted herself and looked into his face. “So serious. What is it?”
“I haven’t been a hundred percent with you. When we were talking about my family, I didn’t tell you the whole story.” He held her gaze.
“No.” He laughed and reached up to hold her chin. “I am not married.” Before she could ask it, he read her mind. “No. I don’t have any children.”
“So what did you skim over? Victoria? You’re still in love with her?”
He tucked a curl behind her ear. “Victoria isn’t part of this. She’s over.”
“Then what? You have to go back. You’re leaving sooner than you planned?”
“If you’d let me tell you.”
“Okay. Tell me.” She put a hand over her own mouth. Jagger lifted it away, laid a kiss in its palm and held it to his chest.
“It’s tough finding the right words. In three years, I haven’t told anyone.” He brushed her cheek. “You know most of it. Da died. I left a few weeks later with nothing but a few clothes and that ratty suitcase over there. I brought him along. My father’s in there, or I should say, his ashes.”
“Well, most of them. I promised him I’d see all the places he never got to see. I swore to him he’d see them too. I’ve been leaving a little bit of him at each stop. My Da will be at all those places he dreamed of seeing.” He swallowed. “If I ever get back to Australia, I’m adding a line to his grave marker.
Ian Anderson Jones, World Traveler
“He’d love that. You’re such a good son.” She was smiling down at him like he was a wonderful human being when what he truly was, was a turd.
Just tell her.
“Not according to my mum.” Jagger frowned. “I took them.”
“You took them?” She gave a little shake to her head as if confused. “I’m missing something.”
“That’s exactly what Mum said.” He gave a short laugh and pushed away from her.
“Jagger, you’re talking in circles.”
“I took my father’s ashes. My mother didn’t discover it until I was half way to Hawaii.”
“You stole your father?”
“Not all of him. Just most of him. I left some.”
“You stole your father.”
“Aye, I did, and I’d do the same thing again. I made a promise to the man. She wouldn’t listen to any of it. I did what I had to do.”
“Isn’t that illegal? She could have you arrested.”
“Shot would be more her style.”
Zee looked at him, and then looked toward the suitcase. He couldn’t read the look on her face. A finger of worry scratched down his spine.
“That poor woman.”
She looked back at him with wide eyes. “You took away the man she loved.”
“No. I took a bloody box of dust.” Jagger got out of bed and yanked on his jeans. He went into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water from the tap. “I promised him. On the man’s death bed, for Christ sake!”
“But you left. Maybe if you stayed and explained everything. Talked to her.”
He spun around to face her. She knelt on the bed, a sheet clutched to her chest. He drained the glass, but his mouth still felt like powder. “I called home when I reached Honolulu. She was bullshit. I’d never heard her scream like she did. We had a vicious blue. Both said things we shouldn’t have. Told me now I’d not only lost my da, I’d lost her as well. I’m no longer welcome to cross her threshold.” Jagger’s throat tightened again. He splashed more water into his glass and drank. “That was three years ago.”
Zee slipped on his shirt and crossed the room.
Here it comes. She’ll be leaving yer sorry arse, now.
She didn’t look angry. Or disappointed. She put a warm hand on his chest. “You love your family so much. This must be awful for both of you. I’m sure she feels as bad about the fight as you. She probably misses you.”
He covered her hand with his and shook his head. “You don’t know me mum. Stubborn as a Queensland ox. Mick has been trying to patch the mess since, but Mum won’t even hear my name. I still call and write. Soon as she hears my voice on the line she hangs up, and Mick tells me if a letter comes from me it goes straight into the bin.”
He turned back to the sink for more water. He felt lower than a snake’s belly. Somehow telling Zee made it all sound worse.
Zee slipped her arms about his waist and laid a kiss in the middle of his back. She rested her cheek there. “Would your father hold you to a promise that breaks so many hearts?”